A little north of the Grand Palace compound, between the fine arts Silpakorn University and the University of law and sciences, Thammasat, lies the ancient temple of Wat Mahathat. Founded in the eighteenth century, the temple pre-dates the founding of Bangkok, but was considerably altered after one of its monks, the young Prince Mongkut, later became King Rama IV of Thailand.
The line of Buddha images around the outer wall of the courtyard
The temple is the center of the Mahanikai school of Buddhism, and as such is a center of monastic learning for members of the sect from throughout Southeast Asia. Although the temple is rather large, its grounds are crammed full of schools, offices and other buildings, as well as a large kuti section. The temple is one of several in Bangkok offering classes in meditation.
The entrances facing Sanam Luang appear to be closed most of the time, so you will generally need to enter the temple grounds from Mahathat Road. After picking your way through the buildings and parked cars, you will come to the entrance to the inner courtyard. The entrance may appear to be closed, but if the door is ajar you can generally walk right in. They seem to keep the door closed to shut out the noise of the outside world.
The palms and main chapel of the courtyard
Inside, the courtyard is jammed full with a large ubosot and an equally large wiharn, plus an only slightly smaller mondop. Somewhat surprisingly for such a crowded area, there is also room for a surprisingly beautiful garden of tall palm trees towards the back of the courtyard.
The courtyard itself is lined with large Buddha images in various states of repair. Numerous memorials to departed loved ones line their bases. The columns of the colonnade around the courtyard are slanted inwards, giving the hallway a curious perspective.
Outside of the main courtyard, to the south are the kuti, with some interesting drum towers and chapels scattered in among them. The meditation center is roughly right in the center of this warren. To the north is a small, almost abandoned wiharn set in a small yard in front of a large bodhi tree.
The easiest way to reach Wat Mahathat is by boat to the Chang Pier. Walk directly away from the pier into the courtyard, where the Grand Palace will be directly in front of you on the right. Turn left at the road and walk up Mahathat Road. There are usually many vendors on the street selling amulets and other lucky charms. The entrance to Wat Mahathat will be on your right about 100 yards up the street.